District Spotlight: Jordan School District

  Kelly Dumont       February 21, 2007      Tutorials Education

Jordan School District (JSD) is the largest school district in the state of Utah. JSD currently serves over 80,000 students in 10 cities and other unincorporated areas. If you were to look at a map of the Salt Lake Valley and divide it into thirds going north to south, JSD would cover the southern third of the valley from the Wasatch Mountains on the east to the Oquirrh Mountains on the west. You can find further general information about JSD at our website, http://www.jordandistrict.org/general/aboutjsd.htm

My K-12 education was spent in JSD and, between that and 18 years working for the district, I have spent about two-thirds of my life in JSD. Three generations of my family have attended school in JSD.

JSD currently faces many challenges, the primary one being astounding growth. We are currently growing at the rate of about 1,500 students per year. We have opened, on average, at least one new school every year for the past eight years. This growth is expected to continue at the same or even an increased rate for the next 10-12 years. This puts incredible stress on the resources of the district. Couple this with the fact that Utah spends, on average, less per pupil than nearly every other state and the problem is compounded. That said, JSD and the other districts in the state do a very good job of educating our students.

I am currently working as a Curriculum Technology Specialist for the district. I work with teachers to help them integrate technology into their classroom. I also teach professional development at the school and district level. Currently, I am assigned to work with 20 elementary schools. In previous years I have also worked with secondary schools. I work on a team with four other specialists. Besides our work with teachers at schools, we also advise schools on technology purchases.

We also maintain a website, http://t4.jordandistrict.org, to provide information and tools for teachers to use in their classrooms. Due to the diligent efforts of our newest team member, we have recently migrated the production of our site from Dreamweaver-based HTML to Joomla, a content management system. This provides us with a way to update our site much more quickly and easily.

Our newest endeavor as a team involves the production of a weekly podcast, T4 Tech Tips, found at http://t4.jordan.k12.ut.us/t4/content/category/6/68/58/. The podcast can also be subscribed to via iTunes. We cover topics both Mac and Windows-based, and we also talk about online tools.

JSD officially embraces an attitude of choice when it comes to selecting technology for schools. We feel that teachers should have the tools they feel most comfortable with. Our platform mixture is pretty evenly split between Windows PCs and Macs.

We do strongly recommend Macs for our elementary schools. Our current program for elementary schools includes a replacement of the computer lab every five years. This lab consists of 33 Macs, an Xserve, a projector, a color printer, software, professional development (not enough) and networking infrastructure. In addition, teachers are generally on a rotation cycle to receive new computers every 3-5 years. In the past five years, our elementaries have moved from one hundred percent desktops for teachers and classrooms to a laptop-based program. We are nearing about seventy-five percent penetration of laptops for our elementary teachers.

One area that I feel is lacking at our elementary schools is computers in the classrooms for students. We piloted a mobile lab program seven years ago. As a result of that program, many - but not all of our elementary schools - now have at least one mobile lab to supplement the central desktop lab. The idea continues to spread, but we are still far away from where we need to be.

Our secondary schools lean more towards the Windows operating system. In our middle schools, the split may be close to 50-50, but in our high schools it is probably closer to seventy percent Windows. Most of our middle schools have at least two labs and our high schools have a multitude of labs. These labs are used for a variety of purposes.

Mobile labs are beginning to take hold in our secondary schools as well, though the deployment has not been as rapid as we have seen in our elementary schools. We have also not seen the adoption of laptops for teachers in the secondary schools as we have in the elementary schools. There seems to be a lot of resistance at the secondary level.

I am by no means a networking expert, but I believe our networking infrastructure is pretty sound. In Utah, an organization called the Utah Education Network (UEN) was formed about 15 years ago. One of the first and still primary charges of UEN was to provide high speed access to the schools of the state. This has provided our schools with tremendous network access. Each of our schools has at least a dedicated T1 line. The secondary schools now have GeoMax (fiber optic transport). I will share more about UEN in a future article.

Using this infrastructure, our high schools all participate in district and statewide distance learning courses. This helps save on personnel costs as schools can now offer courses of interest to students without having to hire a teacher for each individual school. This system is used heavily throughout the day in all of our high schools. We also have a strong concurrent enrollment program in the district. The district actually has two buildings on a new satellite campus for Salt Lake Community College. Here, students are taking part in programs such as Biotechnology, Engineering Technology, Veterinary/Medical/Dental assistant and several other programs.

Being a part of a large district is a challenge. I sometimes feel like a minnow in a large lake. We work hard as a team to help teachers learn to use technology in a way that will be beneficial to the students and themselves. It does feel like we are swimming upstream at times. Still, I enjoy the job and hope to continue in it for many years. The challenges faced are exciting, especially as new tools become available for students and teachers to become creative individuals. I am also grateful that I have the opportunity to use Apple computers and the tools they provide. Apple sparked a revolution in my teaching several years ago, and I enjoy sharing that. There’s nothing like igniting that spark in other teachers.

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